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Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine
Designing Perelman Building Perelman Green Building History of the Site

History of the Site

History of the Site

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The location of the Ruth and Raymond Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine – 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard – is the former home of three historic centers that have occupied since the early 1800s. Learn more about these centers:

These centers have three distinct yet interconnected stories that contribute to the rich history of the site.

The Philadelphia Commercial Museum
A Center for Commerce – An Education for American Businesses

The Philadelphia Commercial Museum was the brainchild of William Wilson, a botany professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Inspired by a visit to the monumental World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, he imagined creating a permanent world's fair exhibition in Philadelphia. Wilson founded the commercial museum that same year. It became the official repository for artifacts from the world's fairs of the era – most importantly, the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis. In the years that followed, exhibits from fairs around the world were added.

By the turn of the 20th century, the Philadelphia Commercial Museum was among the biggest museums of any kind in the nation. It had hundreds of exhibits with tens of thousands of objects from countries all over the world. It functioned both as a popular destination for locals and tourists, and as a valuable resource for American businessmen wanting to learn more about foreign trade and economics in order to expand to overseas markets.

Wilson wanted the museum to be more than a storehouse for world's fair materials. While he saw the museum's primary purpose as collecting and displaying “the raw and natural products from every quarter of the globe, to study them with reference to their commercial, economic and scientific value or usefulness in the civilized world,” he also saw it as an agency “…designed to search the world for new products which may be made available in the arts, the sciences, in manufacturing and in agriculture.” Wilson wanted to provide information about world markets to American businessmen so that they could compete more effectively with the Europeans on the stage of international commerce.

This goal was achieved in several ways: 1) through the extensive and varied exhibits that served as educational resources for American businesspeople, 2) through international conferences, and 3) through an in-house department called “Bureau of Information,” which collected commercial data, issued reports and distributed information through a monthly publication, Commercial America.

Several factors undoubtedly contributed to the decline of the Commercial Museum. First, the great age of world's fairs, out of which the Commercial Museum sprang, came to a close in the 1920s. These grand events ceased to excite people in the way they had before the First World War. Second, the Department of Commerce, which was founded in 1903 primarily to oversee interstate commerce, grew to be an enormous agency in the 1920s under its dynamic secretary, Herbert Hoover.

Finally, while the Commercial Museum served initially as “a school for American businessmen,” that role was increasingly taken over by more formalized business schools attached to American universities. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania was the first one of these in the nation. Taken together, these factors made the original mission of the Commercial Museum less relevant by the 1920s.

The Philadelphia Civic Center
A Center of Civic Life – A Natural Stage

In the 1920s, city officials began planning to transform the Commercial Museum into a “center for coordinating trade promotion efforts of all kinds.” The result was the Civic Center. The new complex on 34th Street included the Municipal Auditorium, new exhibition space and the existing Grand Exhibition Hall of the Commercial Museum.

The Municipal Auditorium, finished in 1930, was the centerpiece of the new convention center. It was a splendid example of Art Deco design. The Municipal Auditorium played host to a number of important political events. In 1948 all three major political parties – Democratic, Republican and Progressive – held their conventions in the Municipal Auditorium.

In addition to the trade shows, the Center also hosted dozens of sporting and entertainment events, as well as annual events central to the rhythm of life in the Philadelphia region, like high school and college commencements and the Philadelphia Flower Show, which used the Center starting in 1932. Tennis tournaments, bike races, wrestling matches – all of these took place in the Municipal Auditorium as its space was reconfigured for a wide variety of uses.

The Philadelphia Warriors played here from 1952 until 1963; the Philadelphia 76ers, from 1963 to 1967, before they moved to their new home at the Spectrum in South Philadelphia. In that final season at Municipal Auditorium, Wilt Chamberlain led the team to an NBA championship. When the Beatles came through Philadelphia on their first American tour in 1964, they played in the Municipal Auditorium on September 2.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the Civic Center became outmoded. With the opening of the Spectrum in South Philadelphia, fewer big sporting and entertainment events used the Civic Center. Political conventions, too, outgrew the capacity of the Civic Center to host them.

By the 1980s, regional and state leaders had begun to plan for a new convention center in the heart of Center City. The Pennsylvania Convention Center opened in 1993 and when it did, most of the Events held in the Civic Center, including trade shows and the annual Philadelphia Flower Show, moved to the new facility.

In 2004, the Municipal Auditorium and what remained of the Civic Center complex were torn down to make room for the Center for Advanced Medicine.

The Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine
A Center for Medicine – A Legacy of Patient Care at the Penn School of Medicine

The first hospital in the nation, Pennsylvania Hospital, was founded here in Philadelphia at 9th and Spruce streets. It was started by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond in 1751 as a way to care for the sick and the poor of the city.

In 1765, the College of Philadelphia (which would be renamed the “University of Pennsylvania” in 1791) School of Medicine was founded by a young doctor, John Morgan. It was the first medical school in the country. The medical school emphasized supplementing medical lectures with bedside teaching. At the time, the College was just a few short blocks from Pennsylvania Hospital, and the medical students did rotations and training there.

The history of medicine at this particular site began in 1832. In that year, the City of Philadelphia purchased the Blockley farm property (which includes Woodlands cemetery) and built a new almshouse complex. The almshouse complex included an insane asylum and hospital (which would later become Philadelphia General Hospital), male and female quarters, work quarters and stables. In addition, University of Pennsylvania medical students trained here and professors taught here.

In 1870, the University of Pennsylvania moved to West Philadelphia. Four years later, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) was founded with the help of Penn School of Medicine alumni Dr. William Pepper. HUP was the first university-owned teaching hospital in the country. “From its founding in 1874, HUP was a place where the best healthcare, best medical education and best research intersected."

In the 20th century, Penn Medicine and HUP became not simply national leaders in medicine, but international leaders as well. Penn doctors at HUP have always been at the forefront of medical advancement and patient care. Stories of individuals from Penn Medicine might include: Dr. Truman Schnabel, Emeritus Professor of Medicine (founding figure of genontology); Dr. Clyde Barker, former chair of surgery for approximately 25 years; and Nadine Landis, nurse who in the 1980s was a leader in overseas deployment of Penn physicians.


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